Iide Canoeing

Okitama Region

Map of Okitama
Yamagata Prefecture

Okitama Region

When British explorer Isabella Bird ventured out to Yamagata Prefecture back in 1878, she was taken by the utopian charm and beauty of the region to the extent that she declared it the “Asiatic Arcadia.”

Okitama is the southernmost region of Yamagata and is centered largely around Yonezawa, a former castle town best known today for Yonezawa Beef. Okitama has an expansive history stretching back all the way to the Jomon period and, as a result, is home to many unique cultural practices, such as the Kurojishi Festival and the Uesugi Snow Festival that have long thrived.

Other than Yonezawa Beef, don’t miss the bountiful harvest of rice, apples, grapes, La France Pears, and sake locally produced here.

Cities in the Okitama Region
Yonezawa Uesugi Festival


Synonymous with its pride and joy, Yonezawa Beef, Yonezawa is a former castle town born along the banks of the Mogami River.The powerful Uesugi Clan laid claim to Yonezawa during the Waring States Period, leaving a rich samurai cultural legacy that local people still take immense pride in today. 

Snow is also something that Yonezawa is in no short supply of, and the Uesugi Snow Festival lights up cold winter nights with bright lanterns made entirely of snow.


Takahata makes a particularly lovely day trip from Yamagata City and takes on a completely different atmosphere depending on the season.

While today many people associate the town with Takahata Winery, this small town is flushed with historical sites from every era of Japanese history, from the Jomon, to the Edo, and even through the Showa. Takahata is often called the “Fairytale City” as the children’s storybook author, Hamada Hirosuke, hails from Takahata. A bike ride through the countryside is an unforgettable way to experience this quaint little town!

Nagai Kurojishi


Known for its famous Kurojishi Festival that showcases the black lion dancers, Nagai City is located at the base of the Asahi and the Iide Mountain Ranges, denoting it as a “place where water gathers.” The vast amount of water in Nagai has resulted in an abundance of flowers and greenery, making it a truly special place to visit and live.

Another key aspect of Nagai is that it is home to the Ozora Kendama, the largest producer of competition-grade kendamas in the world. Visitors can come and practice and learn kendama here as the city makes an effort to promote the traditional Japanese toy both locally and abroad.

Nanyo Skypark


The best way to see Nanyo is from the skies! Nanyo is often visited for its incredible Skypark, where visitors can soar through the air over the rice paddies, taking in some of the best views of Okitama from above.

Nanyo is also frequented by wine lovers as Nanyo City has the most wineries in all of Yamagata Prefecture. Akayu Hotsprings is not far from the city center and is the largest wine city in all of the Tohoku Region. Kumano Taisha is a proud shrine that is located in Nanyo and is dedicated to the gods of marriage. It is said that if you find all three carved rabbits hidden at Kumano Taisha, your wish will come true!

Yamagata Safflower petals


Protected by the Asahi Mountain Range, Shirataka is a town of seasonal flowers, food, history, craftsmanship, and a culture of living each day to the fullest.

One thing that Shirataka is particularly well known for is for the Yamagata Safflower, also known as the benibana. In fact, Studio Ghibli’s 1991 animated film, Only Yesterday, takes place in Shirataka and many of the film’s locations can actually be visited in real life! Food is at the heart of the many community events here in Shirataka and fresh soba, and ayu sweetfish are among the local specialties.

Iide Canoe


While the town of Iide lies at the southwestern headwaters of the Mogami River, 84% of Iide is lush forest straddled by striking snowcapped mountains.

The Iide mountain range is part of the Asahi-Bandai National Park and is often called the “Alps of Tohoku.” In the late spring and early summer, when the mountain glaciers run off and flood the nearby forests, creating the “Sunken Forests of Iide” that are best enjoyed by kayak, canoe, or paddle board.  With rich and fertile soil, fresh produce, rice, sake, and beef are treasures of the region and are highly recommended.

Oguni bear


At the southern tip of Yamagata and as the least populated region of the prefecture, Oguni is home to one of the last Matagi Villages of Japan.

The Matagi are a subculture of northern Japanese people who center their spirituality and livelihood on the sustainable hunting of the Japanese black bear. While there are still many matagi practices today that are still closed to outsiders, they actively welcome visitors who want to learn more about the history and general culture of the matagi, as well as those who want to purchase traditional crafts or even try bear meat for themselves such as in bear ramen!

Kawanishi, Yamagata


While Kawanishi may be a quiet, rural town for most of the year, between August and November, people from all over rush to Kawanishi in order to see the famous Kawanishi Dahlia Garden.

With over 100,000 dahlia flowers in full bloom featuring 650 species across four hectares, various events are held during the autumn to celebrate the natural beauty and splendor of the flower. Other than the Dahlia Garden, a herb garden is also a popular ay spot for visitors, and Beni Red Soybeans are a registered signature of the town. Yonezawa Beef is also produced here and is quite delicious as well.